Saturday, March 31, 2012

"Valero objects to being forced to fund its own demise."

That quote came from this recent Mercury News article; it made me want to bang my head on the wall.

What is it with these guys? Kodak invented digital photography in 1975, and then covered it up. They declared bankruptcy earlier this year. These clowns should have been leading the charge into digital photography; they had a 1.4 Mpixel CCD sensor... in 1986! The issue? With Kodak, as this Forbes article puts it, the company "had the nearsighted view that it was in the film business instead of the story telling business."

Nobody wants film—nobody has ever wanted film; what they wanted, and still want, is a way to bring the past into the present. I almost wrote "what they... want is photos" but that's too narrow, too; think 8mm movie film, video camcorders, and who knows what else; the Forbes article is right: Kodak were in the storytelling business, not the film business. And the film business has been in decline. Kodak could have exploited its early (early!) lead in digital photography so that the declining film business wouldn't have killed them.

This guy from Valero sounds like someone from Kodak: they're in the oil refining business. Dude, nobody wants gasoline; nobody wants diesel either. What we want is to move from point A to point B. Nobody cares whether that's a fill-up of electrons, hydrogen, hydrocarbons; what everybody wants is a way to get to their destination.

Here's a little more free advice: there is only so much oil on the planet, and we can't make any more (I'm talking economics here). Demand for the diminishing pool of oil is rising—and I don't just mean from China and India. Dude, the oil business is a business in decline. You gonna be Kodak and try to milk the declining oil business? Your shareholders should insist that you guys get into the hydrogen business, 'cause we're gonna be out of oil one of these days—yeah, it'll be after you retire, but how d'you want to be remembered? As one of those clowns who drove over the cliff you knew was coming? Or as someone with the foresight to steer away from the cliff and toward a bridge to a possible future?

You guys at Valero have some expertise that's not dependent on petroleum. You have real estate expertise, you have expertise in small retail operations, you have expertise in dealing with guys in cars with credit cards, you know how to deal with government regulators (city planning commissions and building departments, weights & measures guys, etc.). You guys need to take your eyes away from the microscopes and see what you're driving toward.

You guys could be the heroes of the industry; what would it be like, do you suppose, to have Shell and Chevron and Texaco chasing your taillights? If you're really an executive, a decision maker rather than a mere "operator" (see Drucker's The Effective Executive if you don't know what I mean), then your job is to think about the future, and I don't mean next quarter's numbers.

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